Politics in times of pandemic

Published December 9, 2020
The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

WHILE the deadly pandemic devours more lives and the number of infectious cases surges, the ongoing political power game is becoming more vicious. The callousness of our political leadership on both sides of the divide towards this national health crisis could not be more appalling. It seems that people’s lives don’t matter when it comes to political one-upmanship in this country

A desperate opposition alliance seems to have lost all rationality as it tries to amass its supporters on the streets, endangering their lives in a bid to oust the government. With the second wave of the contagion hitting the country more brutally than the first, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is gearing up for what it says will be a decisive show of mass power in the PML-N’s political stronghold of Lahore next week. The effort is to gather the maximum number of people for the showdown ignoring all warnings by health experts.

It is now over three months since the PDM has been out on the streets holding anti-government rallies, but with the rising curve of the infection, the situation has worsened and such large-scale gatherings could play havoc with our fragile public healthcare system. The country is now recording around 3,000 cases daily, and is approaching the number of cases at the peak of the first wave in June this year.

Also read: Second wave may become deadlier with virus mutation

The number of Covid-19 fatalities has also increased significantly in the past month, and in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar, the strain on the hospitals is evident. Many areas in these cities are already under lockdown. With no possibility of the vaccine available in Pakistan soon the prospects of the country coming out of this crisis seem bleak.

In the midst of the power game, the battle against the rampaging contagion seems to have lost its focus.

Nothing could be more ridiculous than using the government’s callousness as justification for the opposition’s recklessness. It is true that the government too is playing politics with the pandemic and it is not serious in dealing with the crisis. But does this validate irresponsible behaviour from the other side on whatever pretext? Human lives are more important than this inane game of political point-scoring.

In the midst of this power game, the battle against the rampaging contagion seems to have lost its focus. No effective nationwide strategy is in place to deal with the resurgence of the deadly infection that is going to deal a blow to our economic recovery efforts. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is claiming credit for effectively containing the first wave of the pandemic and at the same time keeping the economy afloat, seems too busy fighting the opposition to focus on this more serious issue.

Despite Imran Khan’s muddled views on combating the infection, there has been some mechanism in place in the form of the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) that led a coordinated national effort in containing the first wave of the virus. But the worsening political confrontation has also affected all efforts to formulate a national strategy to fight the second wave.

Each province is now going its own way. The NCOC has recommended some restrictions on large gatherings and the strict implementation of SOPs in markets and at wedding parties, but there has hardly been any administrative effort to implement them. The ongoing political confrontation has been a major factor in the failure.

Unfortunately, the opposition is flaunting the government’s ineptitude to rationalise its own defiance. There is an ironic shift in their respective positions on battling the contagion. While the prime minister had vehemently opposed a lockdown during the first wave, the opposition was shouting from the rooftops calling for a total shutdown.

Now there is a complete turnaround in the opposition’s stance. Some of the opposition leaders have come out with an ‘ingenious’ theory: the bigger the crowd, the less the chances of the infection spreading. Some others in the alliance even deny there is a pandemic in the country. So much for our political leaders claiming to fight for democracy and the people’s rights.

There is apparent desperation in PDM ranks to speed up the anti-government campaign whatever the cost. The alliance sees the coming Lahore rally as a potential tipping point in the battle against the PTI government. For the PDM, it would set the momentum for the planned storming of the capital in January 2021.

It’s a big gamble and the success of the strategy remains questionable. The PDM is also considering what it describes as the ‘nuclear option’ of resigning from parliament and the provincial assemblies. But the big question is whether all lawmakers belonging to different opposition parties will comply with such a decision.

While using the opposition’s recklessness for its own ends, the government does not appear serious about effectively dealing with the spreading coronavirus infection. Is the prime minister in a state of denial about the gravity of the situation? His hubris and the politics of confrontation he has adopted have largely been responsible for the current political instability.

His messiah syndrome was abundantly on display during his most recent TV interview with one of his greatest fans. It was all about him and criticism of the media and the opposition. He sounded more concerned about the rising divorce rate and disintegration of the family system in Europe.

The prime minister was also worried about what he sees as growing obscenity in Pakistani society because of foreign cultural influences; to counter that he suggested people watch Turkish dramas. All that sounds surreal in these times of disease and deepening political instability. One expected the prime minister to show some statesmanship in the situation. But unfortunately, this has been missing.

The worsening pandemic could change the whole political scenario and take the country towards an uncharted path. It’s a ruthless power game that is taking the country to the precipice. It is not just about the pandemic but also about the future of democracy in the country. There is a serious crisis of leadership across the board that has become more evident during the pandemic.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2020

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